Cahuilla legends and oral stories, including the Cahuilla creation story.
Mukat (also spelled Mokat, Mukot or Mo-Cot) is the Cahuilla Creator God. Unlike Native cultures in the rest of North America, the Cahuilla and other Sonoran tribes of southeast California and southwestern Arizona did not consider their Creator to be a benevolent spirit or a friend to humankind– he was capricious and dangerous, made the life of the ancients miserable, drove away their protector Moon, and was eventually slain by his own creations after teaching them warfare.
Common Characters found in Cahuilla Legends:
Isily (Coyote, in the Cahuilla language) – Coyote is the trickster figure of Cahuilla mythology. He is clever but reckless, and is constantly getting himself and the people around him into trouble with his irresponsible and socially inappropriate behavior. Coyote stories are often humorous in nature, but they can also be cautionary tales about the consequences of bad behavior and the dangers of interacting with reckless and immoral people.
Menily (also spelled Menil, Menilly, or Man-el): The Cahuilla Goddess of the Moon, who taught the people the arts of civilization. She is often called the Moon Maiden in English.
Temayawet (also spelled Tamaioit, Temmayawit or Tem-ma-ya-wit) – Mukat’s twin brother, ruler of the land of the dead. Water Babies – Mysterious and dangerous water spirits from the folklore of the Mission Indians and other California Indian tribes. They inhabit springs and ponds, and they and their eerie cries are omens of bad luck and death.
The Cahuilla Creation Story
The world began, we are told through our songs, with the creation of twin brothers, Mukat and Temayawet. In the creation, Mukat and Temayuwat were born from the union of twin balls of lightning, which were the manifestations of Amnaa (Power) and Tukmiut (Night).
Through the power of the Creator, the brothers made tobacco, the sacred pipe, the six directions, and the earth. From the earth’s colored clay they fashioned people – white, black, yellow, and red – and the animals, the rocks, and all aspects of the deserts and mountains.
Mukat and Temayawet argued over whose creations were best. When the people they had created began to leave, Mukat grasped the red people and kept them with him. They became the Cahuilla people. This is the story of the creation of our people and the land we have walked since the beginning of time.
Temayuwat was bested and fled with his ill-formed creations below the earth. Mukat taught his people the art of fighting with a bow and arrow, which incurred their displeasure. On account of this, they consorted with the Frog to bewitch him. Upon his death, he taught the people mourning ceremonies and a proper form of funerary ritual.
Today, the Cahuilla people span nine reservations across southern California, linked by a shared language and the hot mineral springs considered sacred by our ancestors, yet distinguished by tribal identities forged by geography, culture, and law. Our identity is rooted in Palm, Murray, Andreas, Tahquitz, and Chino Canyons.
According to Cahuilla legends, Tahquitz (Taw’ kwish) is an evil spirit who hunts for people’s souls and is reported to appear in Tahquitz canyon as a green meteor-like ball of fire. He was the first shaman created by Mukat, the Creator.
The Cahuilla revere Tahquitz Canyon as magical, and it’s easy to see why. For much of the year, a vibrant stream cuts through the canyon floor — a flow that for more than 2,000 years provided the desert’s indigenous people with drinking water and pristine pools in which to bathe and cool off.
The canyon floor was a place where Cahuilla children played kickball or shinny (a game with a ball, sticks, and a goal post), where Cahuilla women wove baskets or crushed acorns gathered in the fall, and where Cahuilla men hunted rabbit and, in winter, the mule deer that ventured down from the mountains to keep warm.
It was and, legend has it, still is a place where an evil spirit named Tahquitz (Taw’ kwish) hunts for people’s souls and is reported to appear as a green meteor-like ball of fire. He was the first shaman created by Mukat, the Creator.
Tahquitz possessed supernatural powers and, in the beginning, used his powers for the good of all the people. But over time, he used his powers for selfish reasons. “He began doing evil things to his people, causing death and destruction, and was banished to Tahquitz Canyon.
An elder of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians tells the story of a beautiful young maiden who ventured into Tahquitz Canyon. At a place known as Green Tree Pool, she began to bathe. Tahquitz saw her and wanted her for himself. He took her and kept her in his cave high up in the canyon. He fed her people’s souls.
The young maiden was very unhappy and pleaded with Tahquitz to release her. He finally agreed to free her on the condition that she not tell anyone what had happened to her. She promised and Tahquitz returned her to the pool where he first saw her.
The people were amazed to see her alive and well. They began pressuring her to tell them what had happened. Remembering her promise to Tahquitz, she refused to say anything. However, under mounting suspicion and pressure, the villagers finally got the young maiden to tell her story. According to legend, she was found dead the next morning.
To honor the young maiden, Green Tree Pool is remembered as the site of her abduction and return. As for Tahquitz, his spirit is still said to reside high in the San Jacinto Mountain Range, which the Cahuilla call Tahquishhemki (Place of Tahquitz).
Today, Tahquitz Canyon is held as a place of wonder, power, adventure, and danger by both Indian and non-Indian people. The presence of rock art in the canyon indicates the area was a special and sacred place. Rock mortars, remains of shelters, and other artifacts indicate the Cahuilla lived a varied and abundant life there.